A zero value man

I missed the opportunity editing the title in my last post to reflect the Superman counterpart to the high value man: a zero value man. Despite the comic book mythology of Superman performs to the benefit of society when he confronts some problem or injustice, Superman status adds zero value to the public identity of Clark Kent. As readers of his story, we admire Clark’s selflessness in hiding his true nature especially in the sense of increasing his social standing. If the story was set in modern times, Clark’s LinkedIn profile would not mention being Superman. Given that Superman adds no social-economic value to the life of Clark Kent, the social-economic currency of Superman is zero.

An objection may be made that in the story, the public is aware of the existence of a character named Superman, and he has a reputation that is generally positive. People know Superman exists, and they are confident he can be relied upon to do great things in the future. Competence and Dependability is not sufficient for social-economic value. Competence may not even be a necessary prerequisite for value. I argue that even as a distinct entity, Superman is a zero value man in a social-economic sense because no one knows who he is, no one knows how to contact him when they need him, no one can be certain he would even negotiate with them to provide assistance they desire. This has solid logic in the comic book universe. We may hope that this would also be ideal in the real world, but this is speculation because he does not exist in the real world. If there were a Superman in the real world, we would probably despise him as a villain precisely because he lacks the confidence and aggressiveness to expose his identity and contact information. In the real world, we seek to lock up villains, and a villain of this magnitude would be locked up for life.

The high value man described in the previous post earns a place of respect in society’s rarified levels of high value networks. People know his name and contact information. They know what he can do and they can depend on him doing it. They also know he is connected with contacts that would treat his referrals with sincere interest in negotiating their services.

The opposite of of a high value man is a zero value man. He is mysterious with no contact information and no marketing of what he can do or of what he is willing to do. At the same time, we are aware he exists through his previous actions that have left noticeable impact on society. Such a character is a villain even if that impact is good, because we do not know what to expect next yet we know he will probably succeed in whatever he intended. This is a man that society will investigate to track down for apprehension and then bargain with in the justice system.

As mentioned in my last post, value is an overloaded term. In today’s political atmosphere, it is dangerous to ascribe to anyone any value that is less than high. This is unfortunate because we are self-censoring our discussions from what society values, and in particular, what those in higher echelons of society value. This is a vitally important topic to discuss both for the benefit of individuals attempting to build their lives (or their LinkedIn profiles) and for the benefit of society itself.

Any society has certain positions entrusted to take on tasks where there is a lot at stake. The definition of value is in this sense of qualifying for those positions. The qualifications must include confidence, independence, and aggression suitable for the task.

Frighteningly, we recently have been filling these positions with people lacking these traits. This is true especially in government and in large corporations. Public opinion seems to go so far as to consider confidence, independence, and aggressions as disqualifications. We prefer to place trust in people who are timid, dependent on others, and consensus builders. When we do so, we do shower those people with comparable compensations so they are high value in a fiscal sense.

In the last post, it seems clear to me that the primary motivation of most people aspiring for high value status is to have access to abundant and reliable income or liquid wealth. People may get abundant liquid wealth by chance such a casino jackpot, or even being a star athlete or an actor in a hit movie. While this is a condition many may desire to achieve personally, it all too frequently end in financial ruin and despair because the winner is not able to reliably repeat that performance. Most star athletes do not stay stars for long or eventually they will age out of relevance to their sports. Most star actors will never land in similarly lucrative movie in the future.

Reliable income streams is essential for high value. In order for other high value people to place their trust in someone, they need to have confidence that he will be around to deliver when they need it. This may be as trivial as being able to continue to afford hosting elaborate parties as their private mansion. Being able to host one party on the closing date of purchasing such a mansion does not matter if it is clear you will not be able to repeat the expense of the party, or the bank will soon foreclose on the property.

High value people are trusted to be reliable in completing tasks of much higher gravity than hosting parties in a private estate. That trust must be earned through appropriate qualifications as described in the previous post. There must be a reliable income outside of the task at hand. There must be confidence, independence, and aggressiveness to push the task to completion. There must be a strong interdependent network of similarly reliable and resourceful individuals to fix things that one can not fix himself. Lacking any of these is increasing the risk for failure.

The higher the risk of failure, the lower the value, irrespective of the given salary. And a single failure will obliterate the necessary qualification of reliability for considerations of future assignments.

What worries me is that we are filling leadership positions with people lacking in the value described here. They are fully dependent on their positions for their income and for their support networks. They outsource their confidence to their advisors. They have nothing to offer themselves but most rely on others to submit to their demands in order to deliver promises. They also avoid making any assertive decisions on their own, but instead rely on consensus irrespective of whether it makes any sense.

I especially fear where this disregard for value has left our government. The recent example of the pandemic response illustrates that fear. Skipping past the initial two month response to the reported novel disease, the subsequent policy making bears all the hallmarks of a lack of confidence, independence, or aggression to serve the core economic needs of society. After two months, it became abundantly clear that the initial fears were far exaggerated. The disease deserved continued respect as a hazard, but it was no where near the threat originally promoted. I suggested at the time that had we known earlier what we knew after 2 months, we never would have started this response.

The impossibility of stopping the progression of doubling down on bad policy convinced me that something is seriously broken in government. Very likely the brokenness is the lack of value in the people entrusted to the tasks. We have to continue mask wearing, social distancing, business restrictions because no one person has the confidence, independence, or aggressiveness to stop it based on the evidence that this is not the high consequence infectious disease we initially feared. No one has the high-value qualifications to challenge the recent redefinition of pandemic to be disconnected from its actual consequences. The reliance on consensus and dependence led us to this inescapable fate that inevitably will lead to mandatory inoculations of an unnecessary vaccine that inevitably will harm more people than the disease itself would have.

Everyone in position to stop this is too nice to stop it. Nicety demands that we all be in this together.

This is one of the times where being nice is the wrong answer, and yet that is the only option given to us.

The above digression explored the reason why it is important to define value as a scale that has at one end the term “high value”. We want high-value people in positions where there is a lot at stake. We need to define that high value as being much more than the salary their position awards them. We are watching the consequences of not taking this definition seriously, or at least I am watching and with inescapable dread.

So, if there is a scale for value, then that scale must have a zero. If we allow the fact that there are a select group who can attain high-value status, then we must accept that others are in the low value end. I assert there must even be an absolute zero. There is the possibility of a zero value man. I’ll further assert that they are abundant.

Unlike the definition of high-value requiring some baseline of reliable income, income is not relevant to a zero value person. As the last post’s video describes, a wealthy man that hoards his money allowing no other person to access it is not offering any value. His wealth may permit him to not be a burden on others, or on government, but I believe even many of these will game government benefits often exceeding the benefits of truly poor people. It is possible for even a wealthy person to be zero value.

The zero value man denies any access of his wealth or capabilities to anyone else or to society in general. Is there any doubt that such men exist?

I already described the example of a wealthy person hoarding his wealth while still burdening others for his benefit. This is an extreme case even though in my opinion they are quite numerous.

The problem with zero-value men is in the counting. It is easy to count the high-value man. He aggressively publicizes his value. Even if he is more reclusive, he is reachable through contacts because one of the qualifications of high-value is to be known within relevant networks.

The zero-value man does not advertise his value. Invisibility is a qualification or at least a consequence of being zero value.

I suggest that society has equivalent interest in identifying its zero-value members as it does in identifying its high-value members. I started this discussion with two examples that are nearly indistinguishable:

  • The reluctant supermen masquerading under an alternate identity. In this case, the alternate identify has value but that value is negated by the lost opportunity of the repressed capabilities.
  • The elusive villain

In both cases, the deliberately hidden capabilities negates the public capabilities. Once we know what the full person’s capability is known, society will resent not being aware of these capabilities, especially if those capabilities are relevant either in offering some benefit, or in preventing some misapplication.

Obviously, there is no problem identifying at least the candidates for high-value because they all, by definition, are begging to be noticed. In contrast, there is a huge problem in identifying the zero value members. This problem is as old as human civilization. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, our abilities to find zero value members are no more sophisticated than the abilities of the oldest civilizations.

To satisfy its interest in identifying the zero value men, society resorts to proxies that are mostly ineffectual.

One such proxy is to recognize that lack of wealth at least lowers value to a level that is easily negated by even minor offenses. One way society accomplishes this is with our prosecution and incarceration of small impact crimes among poorer or disadvantaged communities. While punishing the crime may have value, this approach is counterproductive in the task of identifying the zero value man, the man hiding his capabilities from society. Also, this expenditure of energy diverts attention to the more troubling cases of zero-value men hiding their capabilities from society. Society remains largely incapable of tracking down the comic-book style villains of wealthy men using their hidden talents to manipulate things for their own benefit.

Another proxy is to recognize the talents of people who may be underemployed. This is most effective in education systems with mandatory testing or voluntary placement exams. A similar process occurs in the work place with mandatory continuing education or recertification exams. Sometimes these will expose the more capable people who should be elevated to more valuable assignments. It is not hard to practice creative incompetence to hide ones capabilities he does not want to expose. It is also easy to practice creative unreliability, by deliberately underperforming on a low consequence task to avoid being assigned to a high consequence task that he would not dare to similarly sabotage. On the other hand, these exams often identify people whose testing capabilities exceed their practical capabilities. On balance it is not a very effective approach to identify the zero-value man.

Returning to the inclusion of the villain in the rank of zero value, I think I need to qualify the definition further. If such a person is known within a group, then that elevates his value above zero because by my definition of value there is value in being able to be tracked down through one’s contacts. The villainous zero value man acts exercises his capabilities without telling anyone. The alternative is the man who keeps his capabilities locked away and hidden even when society needs them, a different type of villainy, perhaps. Note that a person who is unaware of his capabilities is not zero value, his ignorance does not subtract from normal positive value of any life. It is the deliberate hiding of the capability, making it inaccessible to society, that can lower a man’s value to zero.

That deliberate hiding may in fact be a result of lacking confidence, being timid, or being bound by some dependency. The latter example may be in the form of contractual restraint and this example may illustrate that zero value men may be inherently unavoidable. A person current or past employment may prevent one from using capabilities outside of his direct responsibilities. In some cases, the capabilities may even disqualify him from the job that is mutually satisfactory to him and his employer. I still classify this as potentially zero value if the suppressed capability offers more value to society then the exercised capability. Society may work on addressing the other areas to improve confidence or assertiveness, but there are limits to how far individuals will go. I also classify these missed opportunities as resulting in potentially zero value depending on how desperate society is for those capabilities. At the very least, the suppressed capabilities are of zero value.

What turns a potential for zero value into a fully zero-value man is when society later discovers the suppressed capability either after it is used in a malicious way, or after it could have been useful if used when it was needed.

The latter is illustrated when a person fails to help out when he could have. An example is a hit-and-run type traffic accident where even though the driver may not be at fault, he should stop to offer assistance, or seek help, or at least provide a statement to facilitate a police report.

A more momentous situation is with the current epidemic response if it later turns out that rushed vaccine turns out to be harmful to a large population and we later discover men who failed to make their case that the vaccine was unnecessary, or who failed to make their case that the vaccine would harm too many people who otherwise were at low risk of harm from the disease itself. If they failed to stop something bad they were capable of stopping, then they could find their value to go to zero. They failed society when they had the opportunity.

The discussion of zero value men is to clarify the value of high value men. The value comes down to whether the man’s value is fully accessible to society. By his very nature, the high value man offers everything he has to offer at every opportunity. At the other end of the scale is the zero value man who fails to advertise his capabilities when those capabilities were most needed, and were otherwise absent from other men.

Finally, this clarifies the definition of value in terms of what it offers to society. Being a good person, of course, is valuable, but for men that value does not make up for his failure to offer his unique talents when it was required. It is like Clark Kent pretending to not see a grievous crime in progress because there is no way to intervene without exposing the fact that he is in fact Superman.

One thought on “A zero value man

  1. Pingback: A zero value god | Hypothesis Discovery

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